Even by the mid 19990s, years before the current Twilight-inspired vampire craze, we could have asked ourselves whether cinema’s most over-represented monster had run its course.
We’d already had dozens of films about them, from the purist approach (”Bram Stoker’s Dracula”, 1992) to Gen X partygoers (”The Lost Boys”, 1987), and sci-fi (”Lifeforce”, 1985) to Tarantino-esque comedy (”From Dusk Till Dawn”, 1996).
So even as writers and filmmakers from Anne Rice and John Carpenter to Stephanie Meyer and Len Wiseman keep at it, you might have had your fill of the vampire mythology for another decade.
If so, ”Kiss of The Damned” isn’t exactly a standout in the genre, but it’s worth your time. If vampire movies have approaches on a scale of maturity and gender Kiss of the Damned is a stately, middle-aged heiress, more concerned with keeping up appearances than bathing in blood orgies of gore.
It stars Joséphine de La Baume as heroine Djuna, a vampire living in a country home looked over by her human minder, a discreet and dedicated woman with a blood disorder that means she’s no temptation to her ever-hungry mistress.
When Djuna sees screenwriter Paolo (Milo Ventimiglia) in a video store in town, he’s smitten and pursues her relentlessly. Djuna can’t resist him and the consummation of their relationship involves her inducting him into her world with a single bite, followed by bouts of erotic and beautiful vampire sex.
The pair are deliriously happy with their new lives together. Paolo is introduced into the local coven, a group of people who seem like millionaires hanging around exclusive country clubs, talking about their place amongst humanity like they were discussing stock options.
As the pair hunt in the woods, make love and drink the finest vintages together everything seems perfect until her loose cannon sister Mimi (Roxane Mesquida) blows in. Causing trouble wherever she goes, Mimi proceeds to cause mayhem under Djuna’s roof and throughout the local vampire community. When she brings a couple back home for a threesome and picks up random guys at clubs they’re all her intended dinner.
Writer/director Xan Cassevetes treads the fine line between making the genre her own and acknowledging vampire mythology well. Mimi’s final fate is one nod to tradition, as is the scene where she visits the home of the local vampire matriarch, actress Xenia (Anna Mouglalis), taking a prim and proper fan with her to meet the stage idol.
Like in Stephanie Meyer’s incantation, most vampires resist harming humans, but the scheming Mimi knows very well Xenia won’t be able to resist killing the young girl to feed simply because – as a virgin – her blood is like a drug.
La Baume is sleek and sexy in an old-world way, seeming every bit the centuries-old soul in a svelte, thirtysomething body because of Djuna’s dress sense and hairstyles.
If there’s any criticism, it’s the music. There’s actually a very good soundtrack full of at-times extreme esoterica, but it occasionally fills quiet moments up with too much noise, threatening to overpower what’s happening on screen.
But ”Kiss of the Damned” has a simple story well told and a unique sense of style – think Hammer Films without the extreme camp. You’ll also realise afterwards that Cassevetes brings a uniquely feminine touch to the classic monster – something even Twilight let go of as it devolved to become yet another saga about CGI battle scenes.